Now that gay marriages have been taking place from coast to coast, the issue has become front-page news. Two overarching camps have emerged in the debate over the future of gay marriage, with a continuum of hybrid views in-between. One camp defends gay marriage, or at least civil unions, as a civil right. The other maintains that the traditional definition of marriage-between a man and a woman-is the only acceptable definition. President Bush has thrown his weight onto the side of the traditionalists by endorsing a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. An amendment to the Constitution that would actively abridge the rights of a specific group of Americans is unprecedented. The 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, is the only amendment in U.S. history to curb, rather than grant, rights to individuals. It was passed in 1917 and repealed 16 years later.

At least the prohibition amendment applied to all people equally, an essential aspect of the rule of law. This proposed amendment would target one specific group, and violates the rule of law that this nation defends so staunchly. Some argue that homosexuals will still have the right to marry, simply not to people of their gender, or that heterosexuals are equally affected by the proposed amendment. However, the de facto effect, and indeed, the very purpose of the amendment, is to prevent only homosexuals from marrying. It is clear that the agenda behind this amendment is much deeper than the simple protection of civil institutions.

Last summer, in the dissenting opinion of Lawrence v. Texas (a case which struck down Texas laws that made sodomy illegal), Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia decried the "so-called homosexual agenda" in its attempts in "eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct." The constitutional debate we see beginning to foment may be much in the same vein. That is to say, certain opponents of gay marriage seek to suppress it, as it would lead to cultural acceptance of immorality. Considering President Bush's well-known religious leanings, it may be safe to assume that he has pitched his tent in this camp.

That this debate is couched in the language of morality is itself a problem. The separation between church and state is a part of the First Amendment to the Constitution and the justifications of preserving the sanctity of marriage would constitute a breakdown of this separation. The "sanctity" of any religious institution is explicitly a matter for the church, not the state.

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that marriage is both a religious and civil institution. There are clear social benefits for creating a lasting union between two people. Taxation, education, medical and economic welfare, and other social services are organized around family units, which are primarily organized and legally bound by marriage. There are also religious motives for creating a lasting union between two people. Though it varies from religion to religion, reasons generally include the promotion of monogamy, tradition, child rearing and, resultantly, the continuation of the religious traditions.

The U.S. government has everything to do with the former concept of marriage and nothing to do with the latter. The lack of distinction between these concepts is perhaps at the root of this proposed amendment. This would explain why many religious leaders fear that, should such an amendment fail to be enacted, they might have to one day perform gay marriages in their places of worship. Just in the way the separation between church and state ostensibly prevents the government from making laws that endorse one marital tradition to the exclusion of all others, it also protects religious institutions from compromising their beliefs.

The apparent legal nonsense of such an amendment calls into question the political motivations behind proposing it. That President Bush has waited until an election year to throw his full weight behind the proposed amendment is curious. It seems as if Bush is eager to have a divisive debate raging that doesn't directly point to potentially damaging national security issues, such as the impending completion of internal investigation into 9/11 , and the continuing rise of the death toll in Iraq in absence of a concrete exit strategy.

Constitutional amendments require ratification from two-thirds of both the House and Senate, as well as 38 of the 50 state legislatures. The infeasibility of such an amendment passing seems to corroborate the evidence of its use as a political distraction.

It also worth noting that four years ago, Bush claimed that he would treat gay marriage as a states' rights issue. That he is now taking the opposite approach by backing a constitutional amendment is a blatant political ploy aimed at forcing his future election opponent to take an equally hard stand.

That our nation's leader would invoke what is essentially institutionalized bigotry as part of a re-election campaign is odious. Moreover, the potential repercussions of the precedent that this amendment would set are varied and chilling. Should we enact, in the most central body of our laws, a measure that specifically denies a group of Americans a basic civil right, it would mark a significant regression in the amount of freedoms we, as a nation, enjoy.

As a nation that that prides itself on the equal rights of its citizens before the law, we should be outraged by the prospect of this egregious restriction of rights. If we have any respect for the amount of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making the laws and institutions of this country more equitable, more tolerant and less discriminatory, we will quash this amendment without another moment's thought.